On Sunday (my first Sunday back from my trip to Tallinn, Berlin, and Moscow) Jerry, the head of the church’s missions organization, made an announcement at church that my friend, Francesca, is dying of cancer. It had apparently been in her body for many years. He smiled and said that Francesca told him: “I don’t think I’m going to make it to church this week.” Her last words to the church were: “Tell them that God is good.”
When I asked about her after church Jerry told me not to try and go see her because she’s not really able to communicate, being truly at the end of her life, and not conscious very much at all. Well, I thought, that may be true, but I want to go to her anyway.
Francesca is very dear to me. She is the very first missionary I encouraged in my ministry of missionary encouragement—before I even knew that this was my ministry. Francesca heard the Good News of Jesus Christ about 8 years ago, and responded immediately by going on short-term mission trips, eventually being called to long-term ministry starting orphanages in Cambodia. She spent the rest of her life in Cambodia sharing the love of Jesus with His little ones.
Two years ago (when she was 70), Francesca told me that God had told her that when she turns 72 He would bring her back home. So with the end of her ministry approaching, the focus of her visits home (here in Milan) became a search for someone younger who could take over the ministry. She wanted the transition to be smooth, and did everything she could to make that happen. Neither she nor I had any idea that the home He was talking about would be her forever home. But that’s probably just as well.
When she returned to Milan at the end of the summer she admitted to me that she was beginning to feel her age. She said that she was sleeping a lot, and that perhaps she just needed to catch up on her sleep. But she continued to weaken, and began to seek medical help. The last time I saw her was in church just before my trip. She looked very thin and pale, but as always, she had a smile on her face.
So when I heard about her on Sunday, I knew that I had to go see her, so I found out where she was. Yesterday morning was my first opportunity, and I went to the hospital. The doctors very gently told me that she had died Sunday night. They said that she was in the hospital morgue, and said that I could go visit her there.
Now, I am not a morbid person by any means, but as I was leaving the hospital, I thought that maybe I should go visit her in the morgue. There might be family members there who I could sympathize with. So I followed the signs down to a basement hall with several small rooms. There was no one there. A sign on the wall said: “Brief visits only, please.”
I found Francesca’s name on one of the doors and entered. There was no one there with her. Her body was laid out on a gurney, covered in a sheet. They had tied a cloth around her head to keep her mouth shut, but had not closed her eyes. I came closer, knowing that what I was seeing was not Francesca, but the cocoon from which she has emerged like a glorious butterfly.
I told her: “I love you, Francesca! Please give Jesus a big hug for me!” Then I thanked God for her life, and that she has life in abundance. And you might think that this is fanciful imagination on my part, but I saw a certain glimmer of light in her eyes for just a brief moment. I know that she heard me.
As I was leaving the hospital, I imagined Francesca meeting my dad, and telling him all about my life in Italy, and my ministry to her and to other missionaries. He would love that! Daddy always loved real-life adventure stories, and I know that he would have loved all my European adventures. Just think of the friendships in Heaven that were never possible here on Earth! I can almost hear the two of them laughing together.
You’re right, Francesca, God is good! I will keep telling people that for you! God is good!
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